Thanksgiving at the Union Tavern

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In the middle of last week, the sad news came through that the Catford Bridge Tavern had closed it’s doors and returned it’s keys to it’s owners. Barely a week goes by without there being some story about x number of pubs a week closing. And, while there may be a panic in the industry, it seems more that the market has changed and those that innovate and can change to meet demands will out. Were it not always thus? The CBT, did not close due to plummeting sales and empty tills, but was the victim of a moneygrabbing landlord (in the property sense, not the Al Murray one) looking for a quick buck*.

While the vertical drinking establishments and Punch carveries may be struggling, a new breed of independent pubs are opening. Pubs where the focus is on quality rather than quantity. And, they seem to be thriving. It’s a new business model. Destination pubs rather than just the local. I’m reminded of record labels itching about falling sales, while releasing less titles and ignoring the new technology that is not going to go away. Some (admittedly small) real ale brewers are seeing the possibilities and embracing the change (stand tall Brodies).

So, say what you like about Fuller’s, and god knows I have – boom-tsch! – they have an interesting place in this new drink market. If the Craft Beer Revolution(© some cocknocker) is driving these changes, it is generally accepted that their ESB was a spur for small american brewers to try to make something a little bit more interesting. So, a big influence if not ally a player. Yet, despite the occasional good pub (hello The Ship, on Wardour Street – I stick to the cider), they are almost archetypal in their old-fashioned unchanging tied-pub format. They seem strangely above criticism too, I’m told by a few proper beer writers this is because they throw the best junkets and no-one wants to be excluded from the invite list.**

But, now we have the Union Tavern (past Westbourne Park just under the Westway) up the wrong end of Notting Hill. A it is these days, word had passed own through the digital grapevine that a pub, not close but close enough to my work, was getting a very nice reputation. For as hipster as it may seem round them parts ,you’re still lucky to find somewhere with a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada in the fridge. The Union Tavern does not disappoint. A set of well conditioned casks showcase some fine London ales, a couple of ciders and some Fuller’s ones. Keg taps carry offerings from some of the best brewers in the uk, with an understandable London slant (again, when this means two Kernel beers on, I say slant more). It’s the usual junkshop chic, but done with a proper eye. The place is comfortable and cosy where it needs to be. But, big (stripped, of course) tables mean a decent sized party can eat in comfort. (Amazing how few places consider that.) And, what food they could eat, a small menu offers fantastic American-styled offerings. It’s all whiskey glazed ribs, brisket sandwiches and the chefs secret baked beans recipe. Add to that friendly, informed staff and we’re rocking. Top it with a pub quiz matched with £5 burger night.

The agendaOne of the regular events they have is We Need To Talk About Beer pretty self explanatory. Following a tweet about not enjoying the landlords beer (among man I did) one night I found myself crowbarred into the remaining empty place on the Thanksgiving night celebration of american beers.

Writers Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham in addition to writing books on pretty much everything quaffable, have made the book signing into an art form as Thinking Drinkers. Tonight, they are our hosts, drawing heavily on their book Good Beer Guide West Coast USA, and what’s in the cupboard here.

[See photo for full beer listing ==>] I was familiar with most of the beweries lined up for the tasting, if not the beers.  Brooklyn‘s special Local beers have never really sparked my interest enough for me to fork out for them.  TBH, I’ve been probably more underwhelmed by this brewery than any other.  Even sat at that table in Katz’s Deli I could only muster a ‘meh’ for the ale specially brewed for them.  So, their special Belgian style beers are probably as far from something I’d want to try as you can get.  Still underwhelmed.  If pushed, I’d sat the No 2 had more substance than the No 1.  (Oh, yes I did!)  I have drank the excellent Flying Dog‘s Kujo plenty of times, but never has it been as good as tonight.  Wracking my brains, I come to the conclusion that it’s the first time I’ve had it bottled.  Possibly a bit older than usual too.  All I know is it’s a fantastic coffee stout, as style very easy to make a dog’s dinner of (ok, that I apologise for).

There is food laid on; smoked turkey (amazing) with thanksgiving wings and stuffing balls, served with cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, and sweet potato with marshmallow.  The latter, nowhere near as appalling as you would imagine, but something I have no intention of ever eating again.

New beer and brewery to me was the final Unita Brewing XVI. Interesting because, well, it’s from Utah which is home to good friends of mine, and largely Mormon.  Again, we’ve got them sneaky yanks taking our tired old heritage ales and returning them back to us bigger an better.  This time the barley wine.  I’s good enough to get me thinking “If I could only drink one style of beer for the rest of my days…”

And, all in a Fuller’s pub.  I hope this is an experiment.  Testing the waters.  Should they be giving their bar managers the discretion and freedom to do things like this (the whole place, not just the excellent event).  Yes, yes, and again yes

*As far as I can make out, the council listened to the complaints and put a block on the change of purpose. The CBT folk say this is very much not over. Fingers crossed.

**I do, of course, appreciate the irony in making that allegation

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Written by Tony Kiernan

25 November 2012 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Beer, Drinking, Food, London

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